Saturday, September 29, 2012

Portuguese, Polish, and Paraguayan Protests (Link Round-Up 9/29/12)

[photo credit: Jimmy Krok]

Spain, Portugal hit with anti-austerity protests
Rajoy’s administration presented a 2013 draft budget on Friday that will cut overall spending by 40 billion euros ($51.7 billion), freezing the salaries of public workers, cutting spending for unemployment benefits and even reducing spending for Spain’s royal family next year by 4 percent.
Pablo Rodriguez, a 24-year-old student doing a master’s in agricultural development in Denmark, said the austerity measures and bad economy mean most of his friends in Spain are unemployed or doing work they didn’t train for.
Polish opposition groups protest over retirement age (and digital cable packaging?)
 Supporters of Radio Maryja — part of the media empire of controversial priest Father Tadeusz Rydzyk — are angry that its television arm Trwam was not one of the channels included in a nationwide digital broadcast package, claiming the decision is political.

“We demand the right to freedom. That’s why we want Trwam,” said Kaczynski, who has long claimed that the mainstream media backs Tusk.

Poland’s Audiovisual Council opposed Trwam’s inclusion in the digital package, citing concerns over its source of financing, and the channel continues to broadcast on satellite and cable.

Marchers from Solidarity — the iconic union which helped bring down Poland’s communist regime in the 1980s and now has close ties to Law and Justice — turned out to oppose to the government’s decision to raise the retirement age to 67.
  Are there really statistical correlations between beer and voter behavior?
These nuggets contributed to one of the persistent mythologies that emerged from the Bush re-election campaign: that Republicans had won because Karl Rove discovered that his base drank Coors and bourbon. It was a notion floated in post-election interviews by some of the consultants who were looking to market this new “microtargeting” to other political clients, and argued extensively in the 2006 book Applebee’s America, by Bush adviser Matthew Dowd, who is a partner of Shannon’s in the firm Vianovo, and Ron Fournier, who now edits National Journal. (The third co-author was former Clinton aide Doug Sosnik.) The book ratified what might be considered the consumer fallacy of 21st-century of politics: that buying and lifestyle habits are the best predictor of political belief and behavior.
In fact, this has rarely been the case. The best predictors of political attitudes tend to be political attachments, and one doesn’t need to mine deeply into marketing research to find characteristics that separate Republicans and Democrats. The Republicans, for instance, tend to register to vote as Republicans, or in the places where that’s not possible—or it’s in greater vogue to call oneself an “independent”—vote in Republican primaries. The best predictor of one likelihood of voting is frequency in having done it before. Furthermore, even those consumer categories that might help to locate voters often don’t cover enough of the population to be terribly useful. After all, what share of voters have been identified as bourbon drinkers by a consumer-research firm?
Paraguayan rebels call themselves the “armed wing” of the country’s poor
The EPP “is a Marxist-Leninist guerrilla organization ... It is the army of the poor, which defends the interests of the poor in our country. The rich control and manage everything to their liking,” the purported commander said in one of the the videos, filmed in August according to a voiceover.
“In our country, the problem is the poor distribution of wealth. That’s why we have to do away with the private property of the wealthy and we have to give the land to the poor,” the young guerrilla added.
But the affluent will not give up control voluntarily, and therefore “we need support and we have to make our Army of the Paraguayan People strong,” he said.
Netanyahu and Romney share the same American donors
But the similarities don't end with ideology: The two also have many donors in common. In fact, a Haaretz investigation found that 19 of Netanyahu's wealthiest American donors, each of whom gave thousands of dollars to his campaign to defeat Moshe Feiglin in January's Likud party leadership primary, have also given to Romney, the Republican Party, and/or other Republican candidates.

Surprisingly, Netanyahu's donor list doesn't include a single Democrat - a fact that indicates just how far removed he is from those American Jews who lean Democratic.

Altogether, Netanyahu received NIS 1,249,022 from 46 people for his primary campaign, an average of NIS 26,574 per person. By law, each donor's name and address must be reported to the state comptroller, and it turns out that 37 of these donors were American.
Russia told Syria to shoot down Turkish plane
According to the files, Assad’s government officially requested that the two men be investigated concerning Ankara’s purported support for the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the main force of anti-Assad rebels. In the documents, Assad warned that Turkey would face grave repercussions if it were to act aggressively against Damascus — not least by utilizing the Kurdistan’s Workers Party (PKK), mobilized with Syrian help.
A plan to transfer the two pilots to Lebanon, where they would be placed in the custody of Hezbollah, was reportedly also considered; however, the documents indicate that their fate was quickly sealed — with Russia’s helping hand.
According to Al-Arabiya: “A subsequently leaked file, also sent from the presidential palace and addressed to all heads of units of the Syrian foreign intelligence, reads: ‘Based on information and guidance from the Russian leadership comes a need to eliminate the two Turkish pilots detained by the Special Operations Unit in a natural way and their bodies need to be returned to the crash site in international waters.’”

Friday, September 28, 2012

Nazi Buddhist Statues and Horrible Prisons (Link Round-Up 9/28/12)

Latin American prisons are awful
The software of the prison system is as defective as its hardware. Budgets for running jails tend to be meagre. In Honduras 97% of the prison budget goes on warders’ salaries and prisoners’ food, leaving very little to keep the prisons in sanitary and safe conditions. Even so, the government spends just 13 lempiras ($0.66) per inmate per day on food, and guards are often poorly paid. In many Latin American countries, prisons are staffed by police officers who do not regard this as a good career move and who are not professionally trained for the task, according to Andrew Coyle of the International Centre for Prison Studies at Essex University in Britain.

There are a couple of other reasons for overcrowding. Torpid justice systems mean that many prisoners are on remand, yet to be convicted of any crime. Prison reformers in Venezuela say around 70% of inmates have yet to be sentenced; many wait years even for a hearing, and must pay gang bosses for the privilege of going to court. Sentenced prisoners, on the other hand, have been known to bribe their way to freedom. Around half of the inmates in both Brazil and Honduras have not been sentenced. Remand prisoners can languish for years, mixing with hardened gang members. The result is that jails are “schools of crime”, says Migdonia Ayestas of the Observatory of Violence, a Honduran NGO.
Tibetan Buddhist statue found by Nazis is made from meteorite metal
Given the extreme hardness of the meteorite — “basically an inappropriate material for producing sculptures” the paper notes — the artist or artists who created it may have known their material was special, the researchers say. Buchner suggests that it could have been produced by the 11th century Bon Ben [Corrected 27/9] culture, but the exact origin and age of the statue — as opposed to the meteorite it is made from — is still unknown. It is thought to have been brought to Germany by a Nazi-backed expedition to Tibet in 1938–39. The swastika symbol on the piece — a version of which was adopted by the Nazi party — may have encouraged the 1938 expedition to take it back with them.

“While the first debris was officially discovered in 1913 by gold prospectors, we believe that this individual meteorite fragment was collected many centuries before,” said Buchner in a statement. “The Iron Man statue is the only known illustration of a human figure to be carved into a meteorite.”
Iranian news reports Onion article as truth
The English-language website of the Fars news agency appears to have been duped by a spoof story by "The Onion", which claimed that a recent poll had found an "overwhelming majority of rural white Americans" would rather vote for Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad than President Obama.

The story only appeared on the English site of Fars - which, like all other Iranian news organizations, is controlled strictly by the Islamic cleric-led government. By Friday afternoon, the story was apparently pulled down and attempts to access it generated an error message.

It is possible that, due to the tight controls on the internet and news organizations in Iran (and the fact that the story has not yet appeared on the native Farsi language site) that most Iranians will never see the ill-conceived story by Fars.
Most young Americans are too fat for army duty
High-calorie, low-nutrient junk food is to blame for one in four young adults weighing too much to join the US armed services, according to the report released Tuesday by the advocacy group Mission: Readiness.

Tacked onto that is the $1 billion the US Department of Defense spends each year on medical care related to obesity issues for active duty members, their dependents and veterans, CNN reported.

Group members say our weight more than a national health issue. It's a national security issue.
19 of 20 Obama Administration cabinet agencies ignore FOIA
Under Obama, federal agencies also have stepped up the use of exemptions to block the release of information.

During the first year of the administration, cabinet agencies employed exemptions 466,402 times, a 50 percent jump from the last year of the presidency of George W. Bush. While exemption citations have since been reduced by 21 percent from that high, they still are above the level seen during the Bush administration, according to Justice Department data.
China bankrolls Chavez re-election bid with oil loans
Since 2007, the China Development Bank has lent Venezuela $42.5 billion collateralized by revenue from the world’s largest oil reserves, according to data compiled by Bloomberg from announcements of deals by the Chavez government. That’s around 23 percent of all overseas loans by the state-run lender and more than the $29 billion the U.S. spent rebuilding Iraq between 2003 and 2006. At least $12 billion was promised in the past 15 months, when stagnant oil output and the highest borrowing costs among major emerging markets would’ve made raising capital more expensive.

The loans are fueling a surge in spending as Chavez hands out homes to the poor, stocks “socialist” supermarkets with appliances and builds a cross-country railroad -- all aimed at winning votes next month in his toughest election battle ever.


As with Chinese projects in Africa and elsewhere, tensions have surfaced between Venezuelan workers and their foreign managers. At three construction sites in different states visited by Bloomberg News over five days in August, dozens of workers described being forced by Chinese managers to work long hours, with little concern for their safety, and being harassed by police for airing complaints.
Russia joins the "Asia-Pacific Geopolitical Pivot" club
As I indicated at the outset, these are the sorts of moves that would, at another time or place, have triggered alarm bells in Washington. The fact that they didn’t, but rather seemed to evoke implied consent from Hillary Clinton, suggests to me that a deeper geopolitical game is under way: that Russia’s emergence as a Pacific power is seen by US strategists as a potential asset—as a wild card that can someday be played against China if the opportunity arises.

It is true that Putin spoke effusively of “Hu Jintao, our great friend” and discussed closer Sino-Russian economic cooperation. But nothing he said suggested that such ties extended to strategic cooperation or precluded closer ties with the West. Indeed, he went out of his way to highlight Russia’s improved relations with Japan, using the summit to announce a $7 billion deal between state-controlled Gazprom and a consortium of Japanese companies to build a plant in Vladivostok for liquefying natural gas for shipment to Japan.

I am not suggesting that US leaders believe that Russia will ever become an American ally in Washington’s drive to contain China—the Russians would never agree to such a ploy, knowing they would always be at a disadvantage in any arrangement that left the United States in a dominant position on the geopolitical chessboard. However, Russia’s emergence as a major Pacific player may complicate China’s strategic environment, as it can never be certain how Moscow would behave in any given situation—an uncertainty that can play to Washington’s advantage, if it can maximize Russia’s interest in playing the wild card role. The more China has to worry about its northern flank, this line of reasoning might go, the less attention it can direct to developments on its southern flank, where the United States is seeking to achieve new geopolitical gains. This, at any rate, is one interpretation of the peculiar developments at the 2012 APEC summit in Vladivostok.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

UPDATE: Vice Removes CeaseFire Doc From Website

Last week, I wrote about how Vice used a documentary about CeaseFire/Cure Violence to help sell a video game called Dishonored. The game is being sold with the tagline "Revenge Solves Everything," and Vice created a special website called Eye For An Eye to promote the game with revenge-themed stories - including the documentary.

I have been in touch with representatives of Cure Violence and Vice Media over the past couple of days. As of this afternoon, Vice removed both parts of their documentary, Chicago Interrupted, from Eye For An Eye.

Stay tuned for further developments.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Blasphemy, Poverty, and Cults (Link Round-Up 9/24/12)

[via Reddit]

Eastern Germany has world's highest proportion of atheists
When we look at western Germany however, we see that there Catholics are in a majority and indeed, political power in West Germany has traditionally been built on western-orientated Catholic support for the Christian Democratic Union in the south and west. Indeed, the first chancellor of postwar West Germany, Konrad Adenauer, had been mayor of Cologne in the 1930s and even then was in favour of the division of Germany and a "Rhineland Alliance" as a sort of precursor of the European Union.

What all of this means is that rather than simply just being an area that was occupied by the Soviet Union and their satraps in the East German Communist party, the eastern part of Germany has an identity which – almost a quarter of a century on – continues to make unification more difficult than expected. Religious confession, or rather the lack of it, plays an important role in this. This has led some to talk of East German atheism as a form of continuing political and regional identification. For example, in 2000 the Catholic theologian Eberhard Tiefensee identified what he called an "East German folk atheism" which could be argued to constitute a substantial part of a regional identity against West German Catholic domination.
Egyptian atheist arrested on blasphemy charges
Saber was originally arrested over claims that he published the anti-Islam film “Innocence of Muslims” on Facebook, but when it emerged that there was no evidence to support the claim, he was later charged on the basis of an atheist video that he had made.

Two days after protests and clashes between security forces and protesters broke out over the film near the US Embassy on 11 September, neighbors of Saber claimed that he shared the anti-Islam YouTube video “Innocence of Muslims” on his Facebook account, which led an angry mob to storm Saber’s house in Marg district, kicking out Saber and his mother.

Kariman Meseha, Saber’s mother, told journalists attending a press conference at the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression yesterday that she called the police to protect her son, but once police arrived, it was Saber who was arrested, not those who attacked his home.
Scientology makes its way to India 
There is no way of confirming the exact number of Indian Scientologists, but an estimated 6,000-7,000 individuals have taken various Scientology courses offered by the Delhi mission. According to Kumar, there are around 25 committed Scientologists in Mumbai. By year-end, this figure is likely to rise dramatically, when Kumar, with the help of other Scientologists, establishes the faith’s Mumbai chapter.

Unlike on other shores, Scientology has been gaining adherents in India rather quietly. Perhaps this explains why the Delhi mission’s founders refused to answer any queries for this article, despite Open’s persistence.

Here in India, its religious aspect is kept muted—its set-up is termed a ‘mission’, not ‘church’, and no conversions are held—and is promoted as an organisation that offers various self-help courses to make one excel in assorted aspects of life, be it by way of one’s state of mind or success in business.
MEK is a power-hungry cult (and future US foreign policy mistake)
The MEK says it renounced the use of force in 2003, a claim that Hillary Clinton has now accepted. For its part, the Iraqi government sees the MEK not only as the enemies of its Iranian allies but also as a militia that was paid millions of dollars by Saddam Hussein to repress Kurdish and Shia rebellions. It has also complained that the MEK’s base in Iraq, Camp Ashraf, has become a no-go area: a state within a state.

Many in Iraq, and other dispassionate observers, such as the Rand Corporation, believe that MEK is also a cult. It is led in perpetuity by a married couple, Mariam and Masoud Rajavi, who require their most active members to divorce and get rid of their children. Former residents of Camp Ashraf who have left the MEK say that they were allowed just one phone call a year to talk to their children. The MEK claims the divorces are voluntary and enable members to focus more intensely on regime change. As for the children sent to pro-MEK foster families in Europe and North America, the MEK says it’s for their own good.

Aware of these bizarre practices and not trusting the renunciation of violence, some State Department officials argued against delisting. But the process was driven by a different concern: the fear that Iraq’s hostility to the MEK would result in a massacre and that Clinton would be blamed for having ignored all the warnings from pro-MEK lobbyists that a bloodbath was imminent.
Slumdog Millionaire child stars still live in poverty
"I am very grateful to Danny Uncle because whatever we are is because of him. If he had not come into our lives nothing would have changed," says Rubina.

But for the people he appointed to look after them and those who promised them the earth and delivered nothing, the children have only contempt and anger.

The trust stuck Azhar in a down-at-heel neighbourhood and took three more years to find Rubina a permanent home. Last month, she says, the trust told her it would not pay to make the house habitable.

"I am feeling very angry about what has happened, but what to do? The trust says that Danny Boyle has done what he wanted to do and we are to take care of ourselves."
Where's the Arab Deng Xiaoping?
Deng oversaw the creation of eighteen hypercapitalist “special economic zones” in the 1980s in coastal provinces, where industrial manufacture could easily be brought to port for sale on the international market. Incentives like preferential tax exemptions welcomed overseas business interests to invest in the new Chinese industry that blossomed there.
The results for the Chinese ancestral homeland were, as we know, monumental. Between 1979 and 2005, the number of Chinese living below the poverty line dropped by roughly 70 percent, according to the World Bank.
First ever Etruscan pyramids found in Italy
According to Bizzarri, there are at least five Etruscan pyramids under the city. Three of these structures have yet to be excavated.

"Clearly, they are not quarries or cisterns. I would say that there is nothing like these structures on record anywhere in Italy," Bizzarri said.

According to George, the underground pyramids could represent some sort of a religious structure or a tomb. In both cases, it would be a discovery without precedent.
You can harvest uranium from seawater
Next time you go to the beach, think about this: You’re swimming in nuclear fuel. Our oceans contain an estimated 4.5 billion metric tons of uranium, diluted down to a minuscule 3.3 parts per billion. The idea of extracting uranium from seawater has been kicking around for decades now, but the materials and processes to do so may finally be economically viable.

The best method works like this: A polymer substrate—basically, plastic—is irradiated, and then chemicals with an affinity for uranium are grafted onto it. The material is woven into 60-meter-long braids, and these are then brought out by boat to water at least 100 meters deep. The braids are chained to the ocean floor and allowed to float passively in the water, like an artificial kelp forest. After about 60 days, the boat returns and pulls in the adsorbent materials—now sporting a healthy yellow tint from the uranium. The plastic is then brought back to shore, and the uranium is eluted off.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Blow Up More Ancient Buddhist Statues? (Link Round-Up 9/22/12)

[via BoingBoing via Ai Weiwei]

Chinese mining company to destroy ancient Buddhist site in Afghanistan, make land toxic
In 2007, MCC outbid competitors with a $3 billion bid to lease the area for 30 years. MCC plans to extract over $100 billion worth of copper located directly beneath the Buddhist site. Ironically, the Buddhists were also mining for copper albeit in a more primitive fashion.

MCC says they weren't told about the archaeology site's existence until after the contract was signed. Following significant international pressure and perhaps sensing an impending PR nightmare, MCC in 2009 gave archaeologists three years to attempt to excavate the site.

Archaeologists say they need at least 30 years to do the job but had no choice but to accept MCCs brief timetable. Specialists on site are working with extremely limited funding and the crudest of tools.
Iran threatens US bases in case of attack
Hajizadeh said no Israeli attack can happen without the support of its most important ally, the United States, making all U.S. military bases a legitimate target.

"For this reason, we will enter a confrontation with both parties and will definitely be at war with American bases should a war break out," Hajizadeh said in remarks that were posted on the website of Iran's state Al-Alam TV. U.S. facilities in Bahrain, Qatar and Afghanistan would be targeted, he said.

"There will be no neutral country in the region," Hajizadeh said. "To us, these bases are equal to U.S. soil."
Italy upholds verdict against 23 CIA agents in rendition trial
Twenty-two CIA officers and one US Air Force officers were ordered to serve jail time in Italy for the illegal kidnapping of Egyptian terror suspect cleric Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr from a Milan street in 2003. Nasr was transported to Egypt by the CIA as part of their extraordinary rendition program, where he was allegedly tortured for seven months.

The trial has been ongoing for three-and-a-half years, and the Americans charged have never been in Italian custody. Convicted in absentia, the Italian court ordered the Americans to serve prison sentences of seven to nine years.
Who are the Salafis and why are they so powerful?
Although Salafis do not make up a majority of the population in any of these countries, they were able to set the political agendas there for the past week for several reasons. They punch above their weight because of the vast funding they receive from fellow travelers in the wealthy Gulf monarchies, particularly in Kuwait, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. Each year, millions of dollars flow out of the Gulf and into Salafi charities and satellite channels like the one that touched off the riots. (By comparison, liberal NGOs receive far less support from the wealthy countries in the region.) Salafi leaders spend this money on social programs and proselytizing, handy tools with which to gin up votes or whip up anger at perceived slights to Salafism or Islam.

Indeed, most of the Salafi groups do not aspire to take over the state through violence or even elections -- their numbers are too small. Instead, they seek to use public anger to pull these states to the right. Where they have strong political and cultural institutions behind them, as in Egypt, they can do so through political pressure and shows of strength in the street. Where such institutions are lacking, Salafis instead use vigilantism or preaching to challenge the powers that be.
Thailand's skin-whitening craze reaches woman's intimate areas
The launch of a similar product in India this year was met with international disdain after a TV advert insinuated that having a fairer vagina would make women more attractive to men. In Thailand, however, the companies responsible say they have been successful. "Products [have] evolved from face-whitening to body and deodorant solutions to even out dark areas in the armpits," said Louis-Sebastien Ohl of Publicis Thailand, which created the adverts. "Now an intimate toiletry also offers a whitening benefit, because research evidenced that … women [are] keen to have such a product."

In many countries across south-east Asia, fairer skin is equated with higher class as it suggests a life not spent toiling in rice paddies under the sun. The Thai language is peppered with expressions that denigrate dark skin, such as the insult dam mhuen e-ga – "black like a crow". These days, rice farmers wear long sleeves, trousers, wide-brimmed hats and gloves. According to DRAFTFCB, the agency behind many of Nivea's skin-lightening ads in Thailand, such labourers make up the bulk of the Thai market for Nivea's face- and body-lightening products.

Using pale Korean and Japanese pop stars as illustrations, Thai women's magazines are full of fair-skinned Asians promoting products that promise to whiten, lighten and "boost" the complexion, with slogans such as "Show off your aura" and "Get to know the miracle of white skin". Fair-skinned actors and singers dominate the media nearly all over the Asia-Pacific region, where the skin-lightening industry is expected to reach $2bn this year , with the fastest growing markets in China and India.
South Sudan accuses Sudan of supplying arms to rebel group
African and Western officials have been trying to mediate a border security agreement between the rivals which came close to war in April.

South Sudan's army spokesman Philip Aguer said Sudanese military aircraft parachuted eight parcels of weapons and ammunition to forces of militia leader David Yau Yau in the country's east on Friday and Saturday.

The rebels later attacked the town of Likuangole in Jonglei state, but were repulsed by the South's army (SPLA), he said.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Strikes, Riots, and Parodies (Link Round-Up 9/21/12)

[via Herald Sun story below]

North Korea makes "Gangnam Style" Parody
A video published on, a North Korean government website, draws on imagery from the highly successful pop video "Gangnam Style" by the rapper PSY to poke fun at a South Korean presidential candidate.

The North Korean video starts with a picture showing a person apparently in the midst of performing the world famous horse dance from "Gangnam Style." The face stuck on the dancing figure is that of Park Geun-hye, the candidate for the governing Saenuri Party in the upcoming South Korean presidential election.

The video goes on to mockingly evoke Park's support for the past actions of her father, Park Jung-hee, South Korea's former dictator whose legacy still divides the nation.
Poll: distrust in the media is at an all-time high
The survey, conducted from Sept. 6-9, shows that faith in the media is down in recent years, with 40 percent of Americans saying they have a great deal of or some faith in the media to comprehensively and fairly report the news, and 60 percent expressing the opposite perspective.

According to Gallup, the public has become increasingly negative about the media in election years over time.

So even while they're paying more attention to political news this year than they otherwise might, Americans are less likely percent to be paying very close attention to that news than in previous election years. Currently, 39 percent of Americans say they are very closely following political news, down 4 points from September 2008.
Libyan protesters protest against militias
For many Libyans, last week’s attack on the U.S. Consulate in the eastern city of Benghazi was the last straw with one of the biggest problems Libya has faced since Gadhafi’s ouster and death around a year ago — the multiple mini-armies that with their arsenals of machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades are stronger than the regular armed forces and police.

The militias, a legacy of the rag-tag popular forces that fought Gadhafi’s regime, tout themselves as protectors of Libya’s revolution, providing security where police cannot. But many say they act like gangs, detaining and intimidating rivals and carrying out killings. Militias made up of Islamic radicals are notorious for attacks on Muslims who don’t abide by their hardline ideology. Officials and witnesses say fighters from Ansar al-Shariah led the attack on the U.S. consulate.

Some 30,000 people filled a broad boulevard as they marched along a lake in central Benghazi on Friday to the gates of the headquarters of Ansar al-Shariah.
19 killed in Pakistani riots against anti-Muhammad film
Analysts accused the Pakistani government of pandering to these extremists by declaring Friday to be an official holiday - calling it a "Day of Love for the Prophet." Officials urged peaceful protests, but critics said the move helped unleash the worst violence yet caused by the film, titled "Innocence of Muslims."

In addition to those killed, nearly 200 others were injured as mobs threw stones and set fire to cars and movie theatres, and battled with police who responded with tear gas and gunfire.

"The people were just waiting for a trigger," said Imtiaz Gul, director of the Islamabad-based Centre for Research and Security Studies.
Woman clobbers Iranian cleric who told her to cover up
“Not only didn’t she cover herself up, but she also insulted me,” he explained to Mehr News. “I asked her not to insult me anymore, but she started shouting and threatening me. She pushed me and I fell to the ground on my back. From that point on, I don’t know what happened. I was just feeling the kicks of the woman who was beating me up and insulting me.”

The Iranian government cracked down this year on enforcing the hijab, a female covering that has been mandatory since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said since 2010 that women have the “right to choose” their clothing.
Indian opposition parties call for nationwide strike over controversial reforms
Under the announced reforms, foreign ownership of up to 51% will be allowed in supermarkets and chain stores such as Wal-Mart. Local airlines will be able to sell shares to foreign carriers. And foreigners can take stakes in broadcasting and parts of the electrical power industry. As part of its bid to jump-start the flagging economy, the government also vowed to sell off stakes in government-run resource companies.

The outcry that’s followed highlights the pronounced gap in Indian society between the affluent middle class that wants better service, presentation and choice in the growing number of air-conditioned malls, and the hundreds of millions of people working and shopping in mom-and-pop stores who fear that added efficiency will kill jobs.

“Small shops can’t compete with these big guys,” said Uma Shankar, 48, owner of a small pharmacy in New Delhi’s Vasant Vihar neighborhood filled with dusty shampoo bottles and medicine boxes stacked haphazardly. “This is a setup between the government and foreign companies. We’re barely scraping by. Where will we go?”
Sri Lanka: Kidney Ailment Linked to Farm Chemicals
The new study blames farm chemicals, which may be slowly poisoning the population by contaminating food and air.

Cadmium is found in some fertilizers. Arsenic is an active ingredient in some pesticides, although it is illegal to use arsenic-based pesticides in Sri Lanka.

Farm chemicals are so cheap here – thanks to government subsidies – that farmers tend to put far too much on their fields, thereby increasing the amounts of contaminants in the environment.

Companies that import and sell pesticides and herbicides contest the government’s conclusion. They point out that the government and WHO have not yet released their full study.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

My Interview on Vocalo 89.5 FM's The Morning AMp

Had a great talk this morning with Molly & Brian on the Vice/CeaseFire Dishonored campaign and the hazy ethical boundaries of new media on Vocalo's The Morning Amp.

You can listen to it here.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Vice, Video Games, and Chicago Violence (Link Round-Up 9/19/12)

I wrote an article for Gapers Block about how Vice used a two-part documentary it produced about Chicago violence prevention group CeaseFire/Cure Violence to help sell a video game about revenge killing:
To be clear, I'm not condemning Dishonored itself for being violent. After all, one of the game's features is that it will be possible to beat it without killing anyone. However, considering that the Dishonored ad campaign emphasizes the killing parts, and considering that one of the goals of CeaseFire is to prevent retaliation murders in the city's complex web of gang-related violence, it's shocking that Vice would even send a film crew to Chicago to follow violence interrupters knowing that the footage was just going to be used to promote the very idea the interrupters risk their lives fighting against every day.
To get an idea of what the interrupters and Chicago police are up against, look at the statistics. More than 300 people were killed in Chicago between January and July 2012, a nearly 30 percent increase over last year. As of last week, that number is up to 374. A dozen people died from gun violence during a 72-hour span on Memorial Day Weekend alone, and one person has already been charged in what the Chicago Tribune described as a revenge killing. The spate of revenge killings in Chicago is so bad that Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy uses "gang audits" to figure out information like who gang members are and where they fight in order to prevent future casualties. Revenge, be it gang-related or personally-driven, is the driving factor in Chicago's cycle of violence. Nobody seeking to stop the bloodshed takes it lightly.
I'll be on's The Morning Amp tomorrow at 8:30 tomorrow morning to talk about Vice, video games, and Chicago violence.

In the meantime...

Eye For An Eye: Vice and Bethesda Softworks' joint "revenge content" platform to promote Dishonored

MetaFilter (which I frequently steal links for this blog from) had an interesting discussion about the article.
Is it actually in poor taste, or only if you know where the funding for it came from?

Well, to start with, to watch the documentary, you have to sit through a commercial for Dishonored, and to find the documentary in the first place, you have to look through Dishonored's promo materials. The actual documentary seems to be okay, but I don't think you can divorce the funding clearly from the work.
Game Informer's detailed preview of Dishonored
It’s an assassination game that reacts to how violent you are. An unusual “chaos” system tracks how much collateral damage you cause, and the game world changes as a result of your actions. Unlike a light/dark side meter, though, it’s a behind-the-scenes element that affects story decisions without punishing the player or pushing them to play one way or another.
The Dishonored gameplay trailer

A Kickstarter campaign saves D.C. Homicide Watch website
To appreciate how well they're doing it, compare the Homicide Watch website with RedEye's "tracking homicides in Chicago" site. Homicide Watch is vastly more coherent, informative, and useful. But while RedEye can bring to its task the resources of a Tribune Company daily newspaper, Homicide Watch is two people: Laura and Chris Amico. They launched their site two years ago with the following pledge: "Mark every death. Remember every victim. Follow every case."

"Their work is in tradition of Miami Herald homicide reporter Edna Buchanan (whom most of us learned about from Calvin Trillin)," Sandlin wrote me. "They are her heirs in nimble smartness and in the belief that every life is a story. But now it is powered by data and connectivity. Where a traditional reporter might call a 'source,' they will search Twitter for 'OMG Joe' or 'RIP' and often beat them to the story."
Vice's reivew of Chief Keef's first show in NYC
He also raps about specific locations and specific gangs and stuff in Chicago, but the only people for which that’s genuinely important are nerds and people who are actually from Chicago; otherwise, he might as well be rapping about In-N-Out Burgers on Neptune.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Russian Diamonds Are Forever (Link Round-Up 9/18/12)

[via Gawker]

A less politics-heavy link round-up this time around:

Forget charter schools, Honduras is building charter cities
The Honduran government has just signed an agreement with the U.S. developers MKG group. The agreement involves a plan to establish three charter cities. The cities will have their own government, laws, courts, police forces and even tax systems. Building is to start early next year.

Promoters say the charter cities, which are a type of special development area, will enable Honduras to start development in a country with the world's worst murder rate and where almost two thirds of the people live below the poverty line. I have appended a video meant to promote the charter cities.

Critics, however, claim that the charter cities are simply a 21st century version of the days when Honduras was a banana republic. At that time U.S. companies controlled the government and owned vast tracts of territory. They used the police to control and even kill striking workers.
Make solar energy better with...spinach and kudzu?
The study, which was published online in the journal Advanced Materials, was inspired by the fact that spinach plants are able to convert sunlight into electrical energy with nearly 100 percent efficiency. Most manmade solar cells can achieve only 40 percent efficiency or less. It’s taken several decades for scientists to figure out how to extract this PS1 from the spinach plant, and now, they’ve demonstrated that it can be made into cells that produce electrical current when exposed to sunlight.  
The implications of this technological advancement are not to be ignored. A major criticism of photovoltaic solar cells is that they require rare earth materials, the extraction of which is expensive and bad for the planet. Biohybrid cells, however, could be made from renewable and relatively cheap sources, like spinach or even kudzu, which is an invasive species.
Faded Coptic Christian papyrus refers to Jesus' "wife" 
She repeatedly cautioned that this fragment should not be taken as proof that Jesus, the historical person, was actually married. The text was probably written centuries after Jesus lived, and all other early, historically reliable Christian literature is silent on the question, she said.

But the discovery is exciting, Dr. King said, because it is the first known statement from antiquity that refers to Jesus speaking of a wife. It provides further evidence that there was an active discussion among early Christians about whether Jesus was celibate or married, and which path his followers should choose.

“This fragment suggests that some early Christians had a tradition that Jesus was married,” she said. “There was, we already know, a controversy in the second century over whether Jesus was married, caught up with a debate about whether Christians should marry and have sex.”
Los Angeles: America's next mass transit city?
The process started in earnest with the construction of the often-scoffed-about Red and Purple subway lines in the 1990s. This began to create the bones of a major rapid transit system. But it’s kicked into overdrive in the 21st-century thanks to the confluence of three separate incidents. First, Rep. Henry Waxman, the powerful House Democrat who represents L.A.’s Westside, went from being a NIMBY opponent of transit construction to an environmentalist booster. Second, Antonio Villaraigosa was elected mayor in 2004. Third, in 2008, L.A. County voters passed Measure R, a ballot proposition that raised sales taxes to create a dedicated funding stream for new transit. Thanks to Measure R and Waxman, a new Expo Line connecting downtown to some of the Westside is already open, and work will begin on a “subway to the sea” beneath Beverly Hills soon. The same pool of money also finances expansion of the light rail Gold Line and the rapid-bus Orange Line while helping hold bus fares down.
Russia reveals its secret massive supply of asteroid diamonds 
The type of stones at Popigai are known as "impact diamonds," which theoretically result when something like a meteor plows into a graphite deposit at high velocity. The Russians say most such diamonds found in the past have been "space diamonds" of extraterrestrial origin found in meteor craters. [Editor's note: The original version misstated the type of deposit needed to create impact diamonds.]

They claim the Popigai site is unique in the world, thus making Russia the monopoly proprietor of a resource that's likely to become increasingly important in high-precision scientific and industrial processes.

"The value of impact diamonds is added by their unusual abrasive features and large grain size," Pokhilenko told Tass. "This expands significantly the scope of their industrial use and makes them more valuable for industrial purposes."
Plastic chemical BPA linked to higher childhood obesity rates
Trasande and colleagues measured body mass and urinary BPA -- an indirect way of measuring BPA exposure -- in more than 2,800 American children and teens. While over 92 percent of the study subjects had detectable levels of BPA in their urine, those with the highest levels were 2.6 times more likely to be obese than those with the lowest levels, even after controlling for diet and exercise.

The findings, published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association, add weight to calls for a broader ban on BPA in food packaging.

Monday, September 17, 2012

#S17: Occupy Wall Street, One Year Later

[via Raw Story via AFP]

While Occupy Wall Street protesters get arrested in Zuccotti Park and pundits gloat at the shrinking supporter numbers, we should also keep mind the things the Occupy movement actually accomplished over their past year of existence:
Occupy branches threw support behind a November 5th "Bank Transfer Day" that shifted over 40,000 people and $80 million from banks to credit unions on that day alone. On December 12, 2011, West Coast Occupy groups called attention to the working conditions of port truckers with coordinated port shutdowns. Midwestern Occupy branches helped draw attention to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's attacks on public sector union collective bargaining rights. Furthermore, Occupy branches have sprouted beyond the United States into a global movement that has supported everything from Quebec students striking over a 60% tuition hike to the million-strong mass protests in Tel Aviv over rising costs of living, housing, and education in Israel.
I'm not going to pretend the one-year anniversary marches have really done the cause any favors in the public eye.

But like it or not, Occupy is here to stay. Even if you're not sure exactly who or what is doing the "staying."

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Are China and Japan Getting Ready For War Over an Uninhabited Island Chain?

[via Reddit]

While riots across the Muslim world over an anti-Muhammad film continue to spread, the Chinese are doing some anger-fueled, widespread rioting and consulate attacks of their own:
In the provincial capital, Guangzhou, a small number of protesters broke into a hotel next to the Japanese Consulate and smashed windows and a Japanese restaurant, state news agency Xinhua's Guangzhou office said. It said police detained several people for damaging property. Police in Guangzhou were asking the public to use their camera phones to record people smashing property and offer the evidence to police, Xinhua said.

In Shanghai, hundreds of protesters across from the main gate of the Japanese Consulate chanted and waved banners. About 50 paramilitary police officers stood outside. Police cordoned off the street and were allowing people to protest in groups of 50 for about five to 10 minutes before escorting them away.

Anti-Japanese sentiment, never far from the surface in China, has been building for weeks, touched off by moves by Tokyo and fanned by a feverish campaign in Chinese state media. Passions grew more heated this past week after Japan's government purchased the contested East China Sea islands — called Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan — from their private Japanese owners.
Check out these absolutely insane protest pictures. All of this is (supposedly) over island chain ownership, but anti-Japanese fervor has been a part of China since Japan's invasion in 1937 and the subsequent Holocaust-equivalent Rape of Nanking:
During the occupation of Nanjing, the Japanese army committed numerous atrocities, such as rape, looting, arson and the execution of prisoners of war and civilians.

Although the executions began under the pretext of eliminating Chinese soldiers disguised as civilians, it is claimed that a large number of innocent men were intentionally identified as enemy combatants and executed—or simply killed outright—as the massacre gathered momentum.

A large number of women and children were also killed, as rape and murder became more widespread.
This also comes off the heels of tensions between China and other Asia-Pacific countries over where exactly each country's maritime boundaries are. Even the name "South China Sea" is under dispute.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is already trying to patch up the tensions with scheduled visits to Tokyo and Beijing. And Japan is trying to prevent further destruction of Japanese-made products - particularly the economically-vital Japanese auto industry - by Chinese nationalists.

Now Reuters reports that Japan's ambassador to China has just died in Tokyo.

But are these social (and Chinese government-controlled) media-fueled riots a ploy to distract the Chinese public from the current Chinese Communist Party leadership transition debacle?
An exit by Xi, who has been groomed for the job since 2007, would have upset years of negotiations among Communist Party interests seeking to avoid a repeat of changeovers in 1976 and 1989 that were marked by purges and arrests.

This year’s leadership transition has already been complicated by the downfall of Bo Xilai, who had been a candidate for appointment as one of China’s top leaders before he was removed as party chief of the municipality of Chongqing and suspended from the Politburo on allegations of disciplinary violations. Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, was convicted last month of murdering British businessman Neil Heywood.
Are two of the world's largest economies going to let their tensions escalate even further?

If so, this wouldn't be the first time two countries went to war over a marginally-significant island chain. Argentina and Great Britain still haven't gotten over their 1982 Falklands War.

Meanwhile, Iran and Israel continue their saber-rattling over Iran's nuclear program timetable and have all but formally declared war. Like Japan, the Iranian leadership refuses to acknowledge the mass genocide during World War II of the family members of their rival nation.

We don't know if there's going to be an October surprise in this U.S. presidential election...but there sure are a lot of global time bombs waiting to explode right now.

UPDATE: As my friend Matt pointed out to me just now, the Diaoyu/Senkaku island chain is rumored to have oil and natural gas reserves underneath.

[via Wikipedia]

As you can see, the chain is closer to China/Taiwan than mainland Japan, but the Japanese don't recognize either country's claims on them (or the sovereignty of Taiwan itself, for that matter).

Friday, September 14, 2012

Protests For Independence, Against America (Link Round-Up 9/14/12)

Streaming music may be worse for the environment than CDs 
Separately, Bach says “unlicensed file sharing could consume the equivalent of up to four times the annual combined electricity consumption of all UK households”, while the 33 percent temporary reduction in web traffic seen by Sweden after it introduced anti-piracy laws in 2010 was equivalent to the electricity usage of 2,030 UK households.

Bach also calculates current YouTube energy consumption is around 0.1 percent of 2010 global electricity levels, rising to one percent by 2013.
1.5 million march in support of Catalonian independence
Spain's economic crisis, which has left one out of four people unemployed, has sharpened Catalonia's demand for fiscal independence from Spain, as well as political autonomy.

Last month Catalonia demanded a bailout from Madrid of 5bn euros Catalonia, which is Spain's wealthiest region and represents a fifth of the Spanish economy, wants to be able to raise its own taxes and spend them.

Last month, Catalonia demanded a bailout from Madrid of 5bn euros (£4bn), on the basis that it believes the central government owes the region that much in overpaid taxes.
Libya and Egypt attacks were organized online by hardline Islamists
The protest outside the U.S. Embassy in Cairo was announced Aug. 30 by Jamaa Islamiya, a State Department-designated terrorist group, to protest the ongoing imprisonment of its spiritual leader, Sheikh Omar abdel Rahman. He is serving a life sentence in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.

When the video started circulating, Nader Bakkar, the spokesman for the Egyptian Salafist Noor party, which holds about 25% of the seats in parliament, called on people to go to the embassy. He also called on non-Islamist soccer hooligans, known as Ultras, to join the protest.

On Monday, the brother of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri, Mohamed al Zawahiri, tweeted that people should go to the embassy and "defend the prophet," Trager said.

Zawahiri justified al-Qaeda's 9/11 attacks in an interview with Al Jazeera last month.
China, Japan clash over uninhabited islands
Anti-Japanese protests have erupted in several Chinese cities in recent weeks. On Aug. 27 a man ripped the Japanese flag from a car carrying the Japanese ambassador while it was stopped behind two vehicles in Beijing. While the rallies have remained small and closely monitored by police, there is a history of such demonstrations turning violent, as when hundreds of rioters threw rocks and smashed windows at the Japanese Embassy in Beijing in 2005. On Friday Japan repeated a warning to its citizens in China to pay attention to their personal safety, and listed six cases of Japanese being harassed or assaulted because of their nationality, including one person who had noodles dumped on them.

Unlike Chinese disputes with some of its Southeast Asian neighbors over South China Sea claims, the Diaoyu conflict carries the added weight of Imperial Japan’s brutal wartime occupation of China. The Diaoyu Islands fell under Japanese control after the First Sino-Japanese War in 1895, when Japan took over Taiwan and its surrounding islands. After World War II the U.S. administered the Diaoyu, returning them to Japanese administration in the 1970s. China argues the islands have long been recognized as its territory. Japan says the Diaoyu were no man’s land before 1895 and should be considered part of Okinawa. As with most disputes over islands in the western Pacific, the potential for undersea oil and gas reserves raises the stakes for all claimants. While the U.S. says it doesn’t take a position on the island’s sovereignty, it says that as they are administered by Japan they fall under the U.S.-Japan Mutual Defense Treaty, meaning the U.S. could be obligated to aid Japan in the event of an attack on them.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Jihad, Cellphone Ads, and Atlantis (Link Round-Up 9/11/12)


US embassy in Egypt, consulate building in Libya attacked over anti-Muhammad film
The attack in Libya came after a Stars and Stripes which had been flying at half-mast to mark the anniversary of the September 11 attacks was torn to shreds by protesters who scaled the wall of the US embassy in Cairo.

Reports suggest both incidents were sparked by anger over a film which was produced by expatriate members of Egypt's Christian minority resident in the United States.
11 years after 9/11, global jihad goes local
To paraphrase an old political axiom, all jihad is local. But that doesn’t mean the West can rest easy. There can be no return to the 1990s, when the world ignored Afghanistan’s civil as a local matter, allowing the Taliban to take over and turn that country into a springboard for bin Laden. That could happen to Mali, or to Somalia, or once again to Afghanistan.

But dealing with local jihad requires a very different set of strategies, political and military, than the “global war on terror” conceived by the Bush administration and refined by the Obama White House. The good news is that small holy wars require much less blood and treasure. The bad news is that they call for skills the U.S. is often found lacking: the art of making political consensus (in Washington as well as in the countries where the jihad is being fought), the ability to work with Muslim populations rather than their tyrannical rulers, and superb intelligence work.

Just as bin Laden’s body was buried at sea, it’s time for the U.S. to cast off its old strategies and find new ways to fight a global war on local terror.
Salman Rushdie's third-person take on his "Satanic Verses" ordeal
Bookstores were firebombed—Collets and Dillons in London, Abbey’s in Sydney. Libraries refused to stock the book, chains refused to carry it, a dozen printers in France refused to print the French edition, and more threats were made against publishers. Muslims began to be killed by other Muslims if they expressed non-bloodthirsty opinions. In Belgium, the mullah who was said to be the “spiritual leader” of the country’s Muslims, the Saudi national Abdullah al-Ahdal, and his Tunisian deputy, Salem el-Behir, were killed for saying that, whatever Khomeini had said for Iranian consumption, in Europe there was freedom of expression.
Shahid Khan: The New Face Of The NFL And The American Dream
The sole owner and CEO of Flex-N-Gate, he built one of the biggest automotive parts suppliers in North America almost from scratch from his headquarters just 35 miles away and now employs more than 13,000 people at 52 factories around the globe. Sales reached $3.4 billion in 2011. FORBES estimates his net worth at $2.5 billion, placing him in the top half of the soon-to-be-released 2012 Forbes 400.

An enormous accomplishment for anyone, it’s more like a Mars landing for a middle-class kid from Pakistan who flew into Illinois for an engineering degree at 16 and never left. Khan’s is the kind of only-in-America success story that has filled boats and planes with dreamers for the past 150 years, one that gives a face to an ironclad fact: Skilled, motivated immigrants are proven job creators, not job takers.
Thailand, soon to meet the fate of Atlantis?
Songsuda Adhibai, co-founder of S+PBA, an architecture firm that made headlines recently when it designed a Bangkok cityscape floating on water, says the Thai capital’s future flood problems are not just about building dykes and ferrying in sand bags. Long-term solutions are needed, she says, ones which plan ahead beyond just managing water and consider the whole layout and function of the city.

“Don’t ask [so] far ahead about serious flooding,” says Songsuda. “Bangkok is a city that doesn’t have a master plan.”
Modern-day slavery is everywhere - including your home
To highlight the overall problem, the US State Department offers a run-down of some of the intersections of American life and global involuntary servitude. In a typical day, Americans can wear, use, and consume items made or processed by men, women, and children in what the agency calls "modern day slavery." While there is growing public awareness of fair-trade labeling that may help consumers avoid goods affected by trafficking, the State Department sponsors an interactive website – – that allows you to calculate "how many slaves work for you" based on your consumption patterns . The site also offers ways consumers can help reduce human trafficking.
Selling Samsung Phones With ‘Gangnam Style’
There are a lot of winning things about South Korean rapper Psy’s horse dance. It’s pretty easy, for one. It’s equally entertaining when replicated by a person wearing a giant duck costume or a teenager in his suburban garage. But can it sell a fridge? Samsung thinks so. On Friday, South Korea’s electronics giant announced that Psy, who made the horse dance a global phenomenon in his video “Gangnam Style,” would be one of the new faces for its Zipel line of refrigerators.

There is a delicious irony in the deal — and one that Psy must embrace wholeheartedly. The rapper’s over-the-top lyrics and antics in his hit video flay the hyperconsumer culture of Seoul’s tony Gangnam neighborhood and South Korea in general. But it’s an agile piece of satire. Psy is managed by YG Entertainment, one of South Korea’s top three entertainment companies and one of the key agents that perpetuates the same high-gloss pop culture he mocks. Psy’s making fun of himself and the world he inhabits, but he’s celebrating it at the same time by delivering a product that encapsulates K-pop’s key hallmarks — an insanely catchy song and a video that is pure eye candy. Horse dancing around fancy kitchen appliances (whether Samsung decides to go that route or not) is such a natural extension of the video that it could easily be a scene left on the cutting room floor.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Chicago Teachers, Unions, and Socialism (Link Round-Up 9/10/12)

[photo credit: Sean Abernathy, via Chicagoist]

Ezra Klein's breakdown of the CTU strike
The school district’s 350,000 students are currently in limbo. They are allowed to go to 144 schools that will remain open for mornings, between 8:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., to give kids a place to go for food and activities, but those won’t offer instruction. Nonunion charter schools, which serve 52,000 students, are still in operation.
Whet Moser of Chicago Magazine's breakdown
But that greater battle manifests itself in seemingly small contract specifications, like whether CPS should do middle-of-year teacher evaluations, how often classroom observations are done, and so forth. The scales may fall on either CPS or CTU, but they're weighted by many details, by lines in the fine print. And the actual timeframe for coming to agreement is surprisingly short:
The August 22 contract bargaining update (PDF) is as good a document as I've seen as far as getting into the details of where CPS and CTU have clashed, though some aspects may have been solved in the meantime. It's a battle, but trench warfare is consists of many, many small battles, inch by inch and bullet-point by bullet-point.
Occupied Chicago Tribune: Four Reasons the CTU is on strike
As CTU President Karen Lewis proclaimed to a massive crowd of thousands of teachers and their supporters at a Labor Day rally in Daley Plaza, “This fight is for the very soul of public education, not only in Chicago but everywhere.”

The American Federation of Teachers—the nation’s 1.5 million-member education labor union, which has been complicit in corporate education “reform” in the past—has come out with a statement of support for Chicago teachers. President Randi Weingarten says: “Chicago’s teachers want what is best for their students and for Chicago’s public schools… The AFT and its members stand with the CTU.”
CTU-produced video on Tea Party support of anti-CTU campaign

Response to video from Tale of Two Missions filmmaker, Andrew Marcus
The Chicagoist is running a story about the radical Chicago Teachers Union, and the photo they’re using for the post shows CTU president Karen Lewis marching with an anarchist (pictured in skull mask below).
Romney backs Rahm on CTU strike
“I am disappointed by the decision of the Chicago Teachers Union to turn its back on not only a city negotiating in good faith but also the hundreds of thousands of children relying on the city’s public schools to provide them a safe place to receive a strong education,” Romney said in the statement, issued by his campaign as he was flying from Boston to a campaign event in Ohio. “Teachers unions have too often made plain that their interests conflict with those of our children, and today we are seeing one of the clearest examples yet.”
Obama "not taking sides" in CTU strike
But Obama's top spokesman says the president has not taken sides. He says Obama is urging the teachers and the city to settle quickly.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel -- Obama's former chief of staff -- has said the strike was unnecessary, since negotiators were making progress. Emanuel today told teachers, "Don't take it out on the kids of Chicago if you have a problem with me."

And Emanuel called Romney's comments "lip service." He added that he didn't give "two hoots" for national commentary on the teachers' strike and efforts to end it.

He also criticized Romney for backing proposals to cut taxes that the Chicago mayor says would end up hurting students nationwide.

...And here's what I've written about the subject:

Romney donors prefer Rahm over the Chicago GOP
Chicago Tribune’s Melissa Harris noted in the introduction to her interview with Griffin that Stand for Children Illinois is “an education-reform group that helped win Chicago a longer school day and limited the chances of a Chicago teachers strike.” In his article about what led up to the strike authorization vote, GB’s Ramsin Canon explained that “Stand for Children co-founder Jonah Edelman famously bragged at a conference that they used access to important and influential political figures like Rahm Emanuel and Michael Madigan, and insiders like Jo Anderson to tighten restrictions on the Chicago Teachers Union.” You’re not going to hear it from the lips of any Chicago GOP activist, but Rahm’s actions in the teachers strike crisis have been fueled by at least one of same donors fueling the presidential campaign of the man they’re currently recruiting phone-bankers and making viral videos for.
Socialism 2012: Where the CTU and Occupy converged (from July 5, 2012)
So what does socialism mean to Chicago in 2012? It means the resurgence of a radical Left built on newly-networked Occupy Chicago activists, members of ISO's several Chicago branches, long-time supporters and members of unions (particularly the Chicago Teachers Union), jaded Obama supporters, and community activists, dedicated to building alliances with underprivileged communities and people seeking social change from the South Side to the suburbs. It means the rise of a radical American Left increasingly indifferent to the electoral prospects of Barack Obama and the Democratic Party as a whole. And it means that Obama's former chief-of-staff and current Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, will face a new, inspired wave of community organizers and activists ready to take on a citywide agenda of union-free charter schools and giving away city funds and TIF money to corporations and developers. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Occupy Global Investment (Link Round-Up 9/8/12)

Justin Bieber's manager signs Korean pop star
The announcement comes as an official attempt to break "Gangnam Style," a track sung almost entirely in Korean that went viral from its hilarious music video, in America. Psy's Korean comeback track was not only a huge hit in his home country (it tied for the most weeks at No. 1 on the K-Pop Hot 100) but on the worldwide social media scene (he is the No. 1 artist on the Social 50 chart). "Gangnam Style" has slowly but surely gained digital downloads and radio play making a debut on the upcoming Hot 100 chart likely.
Chicago gives millions to corporate HQ's to move to city, cut jobs
During Rahm Emanuel’s first year-plus as Chicago mayor, his office has issued a steady stream of press releases about corporations moving to downtown. Emanuel’s office says 20,000 new jobs will be created by eight major companies shifting their headquarters there and 28 more companies significantly expanding downtown operations.

But on August 19 the Chicago Tribune deflated many of Emanuel’s jobs claims with the front-page story “Mayor Emanuel’s Jobs Pipeline Somewhat Leaky.”

As the Tribune reported, in several prominent cases the shift of jobs from the suburbs to downtown Chicago actually meant serious net job cuts for the region.
Does Obama really have a $4 trillion deficit reduction plan? 
As a general point, I think there’s a peculiar dynamic that affects the deficit-reduction conversation in Washington: People prefer “tough” cuts to cuts they think are easy (though the cuts in question are rarely tough on the people analyzing them). So they give a lot more credit to, say, raising the Medicare eligibility age, as that hurts seniors, than to officially drawing down the war spending, or cutting interest payments, or banking the results of a deal. But the deficit doesn’t care how much the cuts hurt. It’s all about the bottom-line number. Which gets me to my issue with Obama’s deficit-reduction plan.
China approves $157 billion infrastructure spending
China's powerful economic planning body, the National Development and Reform Commission, announced approvals for projects that analysts estimate total more than 1 trillion yuan ($157 billion), roughly a quarter of the total size of the massive stimulus package unleashed in response to the global financial crisis in 2008. 
The announcement comes just before a deluge of Chinese economic data due on Sunday that could confirm investors' worst fears that a downswing in the world's second-biggest economy has stretched into a seventh straight quarter. 
Myanmar parliament adopts foreign investment law
One proposal dropped from the law would have required a $5 million minimum initial investment outlay. The final version also allows foreign parties to hold a 50 percent stake in joint ventures rather than limiting them to a proposed 49 percent.

Elected President Thein Sein launched economic and political reforms when he took office last year after almost five decades of military rule, foreign sanctions and restrictive laws that kept the economy stagnant. Myanmar has an inefficient agricultural sector and small industrial base, and most of its export earnings come from extractive industries, especially natural gas.
Putin looks east to the new Asian-Pacific center of growth - China
The turn east to the Pacific offers Moscow a chance to invest closer to the growth centres of the world, and Mr Putin has taken a strong personal interest in developing the region around Vladivostok. 
While Russian rulers have historically looked to Europe and across the Atlantic to the US, the east has been seen as a place of resources to exploit and return to the centre. The population of the region was in steady decline, having lost more than 300,000 people of working age in 15 years, Professor Larin said.
India, Pakistan likely to sign visa deal
While the countries first agreed to grant more business visas in November, the pact hasn’t been signed. Under the proposals, company executives will be issued one-year, multiple-entry visas for 10 cities of their choice, the Indian Express reported in May.

Tourist visas may be issued for the first time, it said. Hasan-Askari Rizvi, an independent political and military analyst in Lahore, said he doesn’t expect any breakthrough from the talks after a meeting last week on the margins of a summit in Tehran between Singh and Zardari failed to produce meaningful results.
Canada cuts ties with Iran, evacuates Embassy 
It comes as Iran’s talks with world powers over its nuclear program have stalled and Israel is weighing the option of a military strike to prevent it from developing atomic weapons. Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful objectives only.

The move also underscores the widening gaps between Western countries’ attempts to isolate and punish Iran and Tehran’s efforts to forge closer ties with energy-hungry Asian trading partners such as India and Pakistan to counter Western sanctions. Iran’s recent push to bolster and redefine its links with Asia makes the break with Canada a less serious blow to Tehran than it would have been years ago.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Obama Wants to Privatize Infrastructure Funding, Just Like Rahm

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's Infrastructure Trust is a controversial subject in the city.

...and a logical extension of Obama's long-standing economic policy:
Last month, Rahm Emanuel made a curious remark in an interview with Bloomberg BusinessWeek about his plans to upgrade Chicago's infrastructure. While explaining how his newly-created Chicago Infrastructure Trust would operate, he claimed that the United States had the world's most capitalist economy, yet was also "the only economy that still does its infrastructure on a socialist model, state-owned."
Rahm's old boss, President Barack Obama, currently oversees the country's supposed "socialist" road-building enterprise. But if he gets re-elected, he may actually follow Rahm's lead in advocating more private investment in infrastructure projects. In fact, he has been trying to create his own version of the Chicago Infrastructure Trust on the federal level since before he was elected.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Quebecois Separatism, Syrian Unity (Link Round-Up 9/5/12)

[via BoingBoing]

As negative news stories of its brutal repression grew in the wake of the Arab Spring, the regime undertook a massive, very well-funded PR campaign to improve its image. As reported by Bahrain Watch, the regime has spent more than $32m in PR fees alone since the commencement of the Arab Spring in February, 2011, including payments to some of Washington, DC's most well-connected firms and long-time political operatives, such as former Howard Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi.

One of the largest contracts the regime had was with the DC-based PR firm Qorvis Communications. As Time reported last November, the firm, which also does extensive PR work for Bahrain's close allies, the Saudi regime, "has a branch dedicated to rehabilitating the reputation of unsavory governments, a niche practice that has seen great demand in the wake of the Arab spring".

Qorvis often led the way in complaining to CNNi about its Bahrain coverage. An internal email from CNN at the beginning of 2012, seen by the Guardian, records the firm's calling to complain about excessively favorable mentions of Nabeel Rajab, who had been arrested and charged over an anti-regime tweet, and was just this month sentenced to three years in prison for an "illegal demonstration".
Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi called for all sides to end fighting, telling a joint news conference with Clinton: "Let me emphasise that China is not partial to any individual or any party."

Yang called on all nations to exert "a positive influence" to persuade the sides in Syria "to adopt a realistic, calm and constructive attitude so that there can be an early beginning of political dialogue and transition".

But he warned against the use of outside force to end the conflict that activists say has killed more than 26,000 people -- a sensitive notion for one-party China.
"Maybe it's because of the elections -- maybe it's because of the pre-election situation in the States. Might be the root cause of the lacking of initiative. Nobody has spoken to us about their reasons, and they are not obliged to state anything. We are very thankful and pleased they have stated that they're against this regime," he said through a translator.
Previous PQ governments held referendums in 1980 and 1995 on whether to break away from Canada and both failed. The party won just 31.9 percent of the vote on Tuesday, showing that enthusiasm for the idea of independence is muted at best.
Vorayuth Yoovidhya, a grandson of the late founder of Red Bull, billionaire Chaleo Yoovidhya, had initially fled the scene but later confessed to hitting the policeman, police said. He was released hours later on 500,000 baht ($16,000) bail.

Though Vorayuth has yet to appear in court, there seemed little faith among the public that justice would be served.

"Jail is only for the poor. The rich never get punished. Find a scapegoat," said one of a stream of comments posted on the popular Thai website,

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Rahm Emanuel Gets More Tea Party and Romney Donor Support Than The Chicago GOP

Via my piece in Gapers Block:
As Ben Joravsky and Mick Dumke report in the Reader, Rahm frequently meets with bankers, CEOs, and other wealthy individuals who have donated to Political Action Committees supporting prominent Republican figures such as Mitt Romney's Restore Our Future Super PAC and Karl Rove's American Crossroads PAC. These donors include Goldman Sachs managing partner Muneer Satter, Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan, and Chicago-based Citadel Investment Group founder and CEO Ken Griffin. Griffin himself donated $100,000 to the mayor's successful mayoral campaign. He has also donated $1.5 million to David and Charles Koch's Americans for Prosperity PAC and $500,000 to Stand for Children Illinois.
Chicago Tribune's Melissa Harris noted in the introduction to her interview with Griffin that Stand for Children Illinois is "an education-reform group that helped win Chicago a longer school day and limited the chances of a Chicago teachers strike." In his article about what led up to the strike authorization vote, GB's Ramsin Canon explained that "Stand for Children co-founder Jonah Edelman famously bragged at a conference that they used access to important and influential political figures like Rahm Emanuel and Michael Madigan, and insiders like Jo Anderson to tighten restrictions on the Chicago Teachers Union." You're not going to hear it from the lips of any Chicago GOP activist, but Rahm's actions in the teachers strike crisis have been fueled by at least one of same donors fueling the presidential campaign of the man they're currently recruiting phone-bankers and making viral videos for.
After all, he's a privatization and private equity-friendly Democratic mayor in a one-party town. Which makes funding a loud, visible conservative opposition party a waste of money.

For now.

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